HOME­LESS

The Denver Post - - LIFE & CULTURE - Ray Mark Ri­naldi (me­dia@rayri­naldi.com) is a vet­eran arts writer and critic based in Den­ver.

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Ger­ard quickly re­al­ized there were other, more press­ing sto­ries to tell and abruptly asked the stu­dents to shift the fo­cus off their own lives and onto the Den­ver­i­ties liv­ing on the side­walks and park­ing lots around them. The work comes to­gether in “Dear Mayor Han­cock, What Are You Go­ing to Do?,” an im­mer­sive, mul­ti­me­dia ex­hibit that runs through Dec. 23.

In a sea­son when most cul­tural of­fer­ings are ar­ti­fi­cially pumpedup with happy and jolly, the show is a wel­come dose of au­then­tic­ity, a sur­pris­ingly frank, and deep, look at what it means not to have a place to sleep at night. As its ti­tle im­plies, its tone re­ports on the out­rage that home­less ad­vo­cates ex­pressed as the city took a hard line on its least for­tu­nate cit­i­zens.

“Dear Mayor Han­cock, What Are You Go­ing to Do?” is — as you might ex­pect from an ex­hibit turned around in just over a month — a hodge­podge of things. Ob­jects range from photo por­traits to a jour­nal­is­tic ‘zine, which will be on sale for $2, with pro­ceeds split be­tween Plat­te­fFo­rum — whose art pro­grams help un­der­served youth de­velop skills and con­fi­dence — and the Mi Casa Re­source Cen­ter, which en­cour­ages eco­nomic suc­cess for Latino fam­i­lies in Den­ver.

Set up in the cen­ter of Plat­teFo­rum’s main gallery space is a slapped-to­gether home­less en­camp­ment that vis­i­tors can en­ter and ex­pe­ri­ence them­selves. It’s con­structed from cast-off ma­te­ri­als, such as card­board and po­lice tape.

Ger­ard and Vaughan col­lected the ma­te­ri­als them­selves from aban­doned en­camp­ments around the neigh­bor­hood, pick­ing up a plas­tic tarp or a shop­ping cart or a sleep­ing bag from places where they’d been left be­hind. The ar­ti­facts, they be­lieve, were of­ten stolen and ditched goods taken from home­less folks who have to pro­tect their few pos­ses­sion around the clock, or risk los­ing them.

“Dear Mayor Han­cock, What Are You Go­ing to Do?” is full of lit­tle re­al­iza­tions like that, and tells its sto­ries in di­rect ways, through fac­tual ob­jects and di­rect tes­ti­mony.

Its most ef­fec­tive method comes from in­ter­views the stu­dents recorded with lo­cals who have dealt with a lack of shel­ter. Ger­ard spent a good deal of time round­ing up, and pin­ning down, four di­verse char­ac­ters who don’t op­er­ate on the usual 9-to-5 sched­ule.“I wanted the va­ri­ety of sto­ries to speak to the com­plex­ity of the is­sue,” she said.

The sto­ries, cap­tured on au­dio and video, re­quire a se­ri­ous lis­ten, and they are un­fil­tered and re­veal­ing.

Among the sub­jects is Jessie, who lives out­side and whose reli­gious be­liefs have made him a sort of street preacher; Jen­nifer, home­less on-and-off since she was 15 and now couch-surf­ing as she at­tends nurs­ing school; Becky, who is autis­tic and les­bian and has to sep­a­rate from her trans­gen­dered spouse most nights be­cause shel­ters seg­re­gate guests by sex; Pa­trick, who tells vivid sto­ries about life out­side, a skill he honed as a writer for the home­less jour­nal, the “Den­ver Voice”; and Stephanie, who makes what she can play­ing the gui­tar on side­walks for tips and who Ger­ard de­scribes as “a street mom to the home­less youth out there.”

Their sto­ries ex­plain a lot, touch­ing on top­ics of men­tal ill­ness, do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, sex­ual abuse, in­car­cer­a­tion and other fac­tors that set their sit­u­a­tions on course.

The ex­hibit closes with Ger­ard’s own col­lages, which she has been mak­ing as events unfolded around her. They are deep dives into ideas of shel­ter in Colorado, meld­ing mul­ti­ple im­ages from pub­li­ca­tions as di­verse as “Na­tional Geo­graphic” and “Hustler” into scenes that are part in­side, part out­side, and with ob­ser­va­tions that are part in­sider and part out­sider. Ger­ard — who lives in Brook­lyn and is about to pub­lish a com­pi­la­tion of es­says ti­tled “Sun­shine State” — has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about home­less­ness and has a keen grasp of sen­sory de­tail.

Over­all, the ex­hibit takes on a dif­fer­ent fla­vor than most art gallery shows in Den­ver. It def­i­nitely has a do-it-your­self edge, and it tries to be sen­si­tive to its sub­ject. Plat­teFo­rum, for ex­am­ple, usu­ally holds it open­ing re­cep­tions in the even­ing. For this show, it moved the time to noon be­cause, as the artist and stu­dents learned dur­ing their re­search, home­less peo­ple of­ten have to line up at shel­ters by 5 p.m. or risk los­ing a spot for the night.

As a De­cem­ber attraction, “Dear Mayor Han­cock, What Are You Go­ing to Do?” isn’t ex­actly “The Nutcracker” or “A Christ­mas Carol,” but it gives Den­ver, and the fam­i­lies who flock to those hol­i­day sta­ples, a real-life al­ter­na­tive, and a chance to un­der­stand and grow com­pas­sion for those around them in a way that’s equally dra­matic and the­atri­cal, only with­out the spe­cial ef­fects (or the high price; this show is free).

As years go, 2016 wasn’t typ­i­cal in this city, es­pe­cially in and around Cur­tis Park. The sweeps shook it up. This ex­hibit of­fers a chance to shake up the usual hol­i­day tra­di­tions for all of us.

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